Could this be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League relegation battle?
Yes, yes, we know – the top flight season is not yet halfway through and there is a A LOT of football still to be played.
But with several clubs at the bottom facing each other and one or two managers under pressure, will this be the time some teams look back on as a turning point in their campaign?
What are the key games?
First, let’s remind ourselves of exactly how things look at the bottom of the table.
Southampton are in danger of being cut adrift as they sit bottom of the table and three points from safety, but above them only three points separate Wolves in 19th and Leicester in 13th.
Six of the bottom eight face each other on Saturday:
- Everton v Southampton
- Nottingham Forest v Leicester
- Wolves v West Ham
Meanwhile, Bournemouth, who are currently one point above the relegation zone, travel to Brentford on Saturday while Leeds – sitting 14th and three points away from danger – are at Aston Villa on Friday.
Who is in form and who is in a slump?
Nottingham Forest appeared to struggle on their return to the top flight but a run of two wins, two draws and just one defeat in their past five games has moved them off the bottom and – for now – away from trouble.
Steve Cooper’s side picked up a crucial away win last week at Southampton, who look worryingly poor in the league under new manager Nathan Jones.
The Saints have not had that new manager bounce with Jones, having lost all four of their Premier League matches since he was appointed on 10 November.
They did, however, claim a shock 2-0 win against Manchester City in the EFL Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday, which could provide a much-needed confidence boost.
West Ham, Everton and Bournemouth are also struggling for form, with only the Cherries of those three having managed a win in their past six games.
Which managers are under pressure?
It is hard to suggest any manager of a side towards the bottom of the table will be feeling particularly comfortable in their job.
But Jones is not long into his role at Southampton, so a change would seem unlikely there any time soon – particularly after the win against City.
Everton boss Frank Lampard and West Ham manager David Moyes, however, will certainly be feeling the pressure.
This is where this weekend’s games appear so crucial. A win for Lampard and Everton at home to Southampton and they could move out of the bottom three, but a defeat would be unthinkable.
“Neither Everton nor manager Frank Lampard can afford to lose their match at home to Southampton on Saturday,” says BBC Sport’s chief football writer Phil McNulty.
“It is hard to see Lampard surviving a defeat, but he is not the main target for increasingly angry supporters at the club’s continuing troubles. Everton fan groups have owner Farhad Moshiri, chairman Bill Kenwright and chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale in their sights. “
Former Premier League striker Chris Sutton believes Jones can turn things around at Southampton, providing there are more performances like the one against Manchester City.
“He needs time, he took over an absolute mess,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“The negativity really took over after the defeat against Forest when they didn’t have a shot on target. After the win at the weekend [over Crystal Palace in the FA Cup] there was still some scepticism.
“If they can play like they did [against Manchester City] with that intensity then they will stay up, and it is a big ‘if’.”
There is a planned sit-down protest after Saturday’s game at Goodison Park, with a large-scale show of banners expressing Evertonian discontent expected.
Meanwhile, Moyes and West Ham face a tougher task at a Wolves side who are showing signs of improvement under new boss Julen Lopetegui.
Since the former Sevilla boss’ appointment on 5 November, Wolves have taken four points from four games, and losing to Arsenal and Manchester United was hardly a shock.
A win for the Hammers would be big as it would move them three points clear of trouble and provide confidence before they host Moyes’ former club Everton on 21 January.
What do the managers say?
With the bottom four teams facing each other this weekend, here’s what their managers have been saying recently:
Southampton boss Jones: “The performances have always been there, they have been building and growing. It won’t happen overnight – I am not a miracle worker. It will take time.”
Everton manager Lampard: “I’m very aware of what I came in to do in this job. I want to be a success at this club. Any challenges that come along, then I’ll take them on and actually enjoy them.”
West Ham boss Moyes: “I think the West Ham supporters have been incredibly supportive. They have seen what has gone on here in the past three years, and would probably say the opposite to the club changing manager.
“They are desperate for us to do well, and desperate for the manager to do well. We have to buck up, do better, play better and find a way of winning games, which is the key.”
Wolves boss Lopetegui: “We are improving, believing more in ourselves and to be ready for a long and hard race.
“We have to be ready to arrive in the last minute, believe in ourselves, knowing we are going to have a lot of difficulties, but step-by-step we are going to continue improving.”
Who do you think will stay up?
It is, of course, the fans who know their side better than anyone, so who do you think will be going down at the end of the season, and who will get out of trouble?
Predict how you see the final table of the 2022-23 season shaping up below.